Tartuffe

November 16, 2017

in Plays

Play (1664)
by Molière
Translated by Ranjit Bolt

Directed by Peter DuBois

Huntington Theatre Company
Symphony Hall area, Boston
November 10 – December 10, 2017

Scenic Design: Alexander Dodge; Lighting Design: Chrstopher Akerlind; Sound Design: Ben Emerson; Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig; Costume Design: Anita Yavich; Original Music: Peter Golub

With Frank Wood (Orgon), Melissa Miller (Elmire), Sarah Oakes Muirhead (Mariane), Matthew Bretscheneider (Damis), Jane Pfitsch (Dorine), Matthew J Harris (Cleante), Paula Plum (Madame Pernelle), Katie Elinoff (Flipote), Gabriel Brown (Valere), Brett Gelman (Tartuffe), Steven Barkhimer (Laurent, Monsier Loyal), Omar Robinson (An Officer of the Court)

Pierre Mignard Portrait of Jean-Baptiste_Poquelin_ aka Moliere (1622-1673)

Pierre Mignard
Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin
aka Moliere (1622-1673)
(1658)

An innovative, sparkling and energetic interpretation of the once-controversial seventeenth century farce about a manipulative religious hypocrite.

This finely wrought production of a new, beautiful and fun translation of the Moliere classic begins with several tableaux: characters pose in period costumes and wigs, are framed as though being photographed, and then the lights switch and they pose again. It’s a lovely, spunky introduction to this equally energetic production which finally proceeds in modern dress, the wigs and period clothes dispensed with after the initial tableaux.

Ranjit Bolt’s new translation has been done with a metrical departure from the former authoritative 1965 English translation by Richard Wilbur which was done in pentameter. Instead of having ten syllables per line, Bolt’s translation has eight. (The original French is done in rhymed couplets with twelve syllables per line.) To some ears, the rhythms and rhymes this sets up might seem forced and jerky, but to these ears it is stimulating and mildly unexpected in a welcome way.

The first part of the play, which features Madame Pernelle (Paula Plum) the mother of Orgon (Frank Wood), a gentleman who has been taken spiritual hostage by the ridiculous Tartuffe (Brett Gelman), is a long argument about the vulnerability of character and sets the tone for the running dispute about the in-house religious zealot who has captured Orgon’s heart and mind and who, at the same time is planning to capture the heart and other gates to the sensual self of Elmire (Melissa Miller), Orgon’s wife.

The play is broadly populated, and several of the characters get to weigh in significantly. Dorine (Jane Pfitsch), the maid, is sharp, pointed, articulate and strictly no-nonsense, taking no hostages in each of her arguments. Melissa Miller, as Elmire, Orgon’s wife, is redolent with suspicion of the dastardly mentor and artfully bends her prose and utilizes her wiles to enable her husband, Orgon, to see for himself what Tartuffe is up to.

The masterful and versatile Paula Plum offers a long and confident series of soliloquys early on, exhibiting an articulate stylishness, all the more effective because of its steady maintenance of the delusion about Tartuffe.

Brett Gelman as Tartuffe in 'Tartuffe'

Brett Gelman as Tartuffe
in “Tartuffe”
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

As Tartuffe, Brett Gelman offers a boisterously determined presence, almost a little too persuasive to seem the farcical butt of the joke. But, in a sense, that makes the whole pose that much more realistic.

There is a some great choreography by Daniel Pelzig, especially at the end, capping off the combined elements of stagecraft that support the liveliness and fun of the production.

Drinking in the wit and music of the densely packed verbiage provides a lot of the pleasure of this production. The interleaving of traditional form and contemporary reference in the translation is done seamlessly and in an appealing way.

A fanciful farcical exposure, nothing of great psychological depth pervades the drama, but one is simply happy to sense the wit-filled words wash over in waves.

The play’s single most significant point, that one’s adulation for a powerful figure who purports to govern one’s spiritual sensibility can be fraught with difficulties, the chief one of which is a blindness to the obvious corruption within, comes through clearly in this production.

The environment is replete with charlatans and predators, and, despite all the sage advice in the world, it is easy to be taken in, often, as with the case of Orgon and Tartuffe, just on the edge of being too late. And, as with Orgon, one can, with eyes opened, come to regret that welcoming accommodation of a corrupt character emblazoned with a superficial sheen of self-possession.

– BADMan

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